The focus on wellness, particularly on the management of overeating, in therapy can be a double-edged sword. While clients often readily embrace the vector of self-care, goal-specific treatment planning and clinical homework can trigger the games of avoidance. Suddenly, the validating therapist is thrown into the role of a wellness expert and becomes an accountability check.
Before too long, mere inquiry into the client’s progress runs a discordant parallel to punitive supervision. With this actual or perceived change of hats, the process of the therapy changes, the wellness goals are eventually abandoned and the closet of therapy fills up with the skeletons of failed objectives. This – in my experience – has been an inherent complexity of problem-focused treatments such as behavioral medicine.
Such experiences have taught me that a non-directive, harm-reduction, humanistic angle of engagement works best in facilitating clients’ wellness goal of weight management. In particular, I have enjoyed better “compliance luck” from the clinical position in which I frame success in overcoming overeating as more of a know-how issue than a motivational issue. With this in mind, as part of the role-induction to behavioral weight management, I let clients know that I am aware of a variety of behavioral exercises that can help them transition from mindless reactive eating to a more mindful and more conscious eating stance, and I then offer the client to look at their weight management “homework” as a kind of experiential journey of gradual acquisition of mindful eating skills, and not as a frantic blitzkrieg of change.
This gradual, exploratory behavioral goal-frame, in my experience, reduces the often arbitrary urgency of the need to change (with the example of arbitrary urgency being: “I need to lose weight to look good at my son’s wedding”). An open-ended stance on behavioral homework (“You have the rest of your life to gain control over this issue and I have several exercises for us to try, so let’s just take time to see what works best for you”) also pre-empts and obviates “compliance relapse.”
Furthermore, a humanistically-permissive therapeutic posture allows the clinician …
Mindful eating (at least the way I teach it) has its own version of “portion control” – it’s got to do not with how many mouthfuls you can have but with how many mindfuls you need to feel full; it’s got to do with shifting from a serving to a savoring.
What’s a mindful? A mindful, to coin a term, is a unit of mental absorption in whatever it is that you are doing. For example, as you look back at a typical day, perhaps most of it was spent in a state of robotic, mindless monotony, with the exception of a couple of moments when you were really present, thoughtful, and mindful of something. Maybe you found yourself scratching your head over some challenging problem. Maybe, at the end of your lunch break, you caught a glimpse of a bird swaying on a tree branch. Maybe, when finally home, sitting in your car in the driveway, you had a sense of perspective. Whatever their content, these moments of being mindful are just that: states of being attuned to the moment, absorbed in the here and now.
In application to eating, a Mindful is a moment of being conscious of eating. Maybe it will last ten seconds, maybe half a minute. But however long, it is a unit of awareness, a serving of mindfulness.
A Savoring, to coin another term, is a unit of mindful appreciation, a moment of conscious enjoyment, a highlight. To have a savoring, you first have to have a moment of eating consciousness (a mindful). After all, how can you enjoy a moment if you are not aware of it? So, whereas mouthfuls and servings are the units of fullness, mindfuls and savorings are the units of mind-fullness.
To help you shift from fullness to mind-fullness, I suggest that at the end of your meals, you look back at your experience and take stock of how conscious you were of your eating and of the moments of eating you enjoyed. How many mindfuls did you have? Which moments were you actually fully conscious? Were you present when you …
Mindful-not-mouthful approach aims to automate mindfulness. Automate mindfulness? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?! Not really. The goal is habit modification. While the goal of making mindful eating a habit may seem paradoxical, it really isn’t. The idea is to help you become habitually mindful of your eating, to get to the point where the decision to be mindful about eating is evoked mindlessly, automatically, effortlessly, and out of force of habit. Yes, I’d like for mindful eating to have the force of habit in your eating life. This kind of habit-forming or conditioning is the only assurance that the book in your hands will help you make a lasting difference in your battle with overeating.
Mindfulness and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is informational awareness. Mindfulness is experiential awareness. To know something is different from experiencing something. In your self-help readings or treatment encounters you might have come across the advice to “eat mindfully” or “slow down your eating and be conscious of taste.” Knowing this advice leads to informational awareness. Applying this advice creates experiential awareness.
Knowing that you need to be conscious of your eating or even trying it a few times, according to someone’s prototype of mindful eating, is insufficient for a change in eating habits. And yet, informational awareness is a vital precursor of change.
The intent of the approach is to help you make the three-point journey: from (1) knowledge (of mindful eating), to (2) practice (of mindful eating), to the destination of (3) habitual application (of mindful eating); from the starting point of appreciating the necessity of mindful eating, to experimenting with it, to the permanent awakening of the overeating “zombie.”
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To notice reality you have to go off the autopilot. To do that, you have to break the familiar patterns. To eat mindfully, eat strange, in strange places. This is an oldie but goodie (from “Eating the Moment“). Here’s a lunch I had the other day. Inca corn – nothing special. Hemp tea – nothing special. Sitting on the bumper of my Volvo wagon – nothing special. All in all, however, very strange and very special.
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[photo: Somov, Strange Lunch, 2013]
[excerpt from Reinventing the Meal]
Context/read first: Metabolic Independence/Homo Solaris/Future of Eating
Dostoyevsky once described money as “coined liberty” (1915, 16). Indeed, money is independence.
But what is money?
All money is reducible to one and the same currency: energy. That’s what flows through us, what moves us, and what motivates us. Money energizes because money is energy. The American greenback is a symbolic leaf of life: It starts out as a banknote of photosynthesis and is metabolized time and again through the samsaric mill of metabolic reincarnations until it transmutes into a living leaf of informational and symbolic value that is redeemable for energy. Currency is literally a current—a current of energy trade. As such, money is a fundamentally heterotrophic invention. Money is an exchange of borrowed calories by those who didn’t produce them in the first place. Autotrophs, the energy generators, have no need for money. Plants, unlike animals, are fundamentally and inalienably democratic and energy-independent. Each blade of grass has more sovereignty than any human nation. A blade of grass depends on nothing for its metabolic needs except abundant sun, air, water, and minerals. Each blade of grass is a dominion unto itself. It needs not ask, beg, buy, or trade. It is sovereign.
And so shall Homo solaris be. Reliant on the commons of sun, air, water, and minerals for physiological needs, Homo solaris will be beyond money and thus beyond the corruption of money and therefore fundamentally sovereign and inalienably free.
In his book Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Richard Fortey reminisces about the photosynthetic Eden of Precambrian time: “Cellularity had become a food chain, gobbling began, and voracity has never gone away. If there were a point in history at which Tennyson’s famous phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ could be said first to apply, this was it… The era of photosynthetic passivity and peaceful coexistence…had passed from the Earth, and the hierarchy of power has never subsequently been forgotten” (1998, 92–93). He’s absolutely right: Heterotrophy is fundamentally hierarchical. Human photosynthesis, through …
Mani, the founder of Manichaeanism, born in Persia in 216 CE, wanted to transcend a self-imposed mind-made dualism. He wished to free mind (light, spirit, soul, consciousness) from body (matter) because he believed that mind and body were two separate substances.
As I see it, this is classic dualistic folly. Your consciousness isn’t trapped in the matter of your body. Your consciousness (spirit, soul, mind) is an inner dimension of the material body that you are; that is, it is the subjectivity of the object. As such, there is no soul hostage to liberate. Mani, as I see it, got stuck in chasing the tail of his own conceptual abstraction. He was trying to let a stone out of a stone. It can’t be done. We are living, conscious, breathing matter. And we are liquid, feeling, sensing, suffering collections of minerals (a Vernadskian view that I share). No surprise here: Being made of the rock called Earth, we are nothing more and nothing less than this rock.
But Mani’s experiment wasn’t in vain. He reconceptualized spiritual enlightenment and illumination in a most literal way: by encouraging us to eat more light and aspire to be light producing and light emitting. He challenged humanity to find a way to eat the way plants eat and to share the luminescence—a noble, compassionate, and humane goal and, arguably, the first transhuman goal on record.
Rest in peace, Persian dreamer, perhaps, somewhere in the belly-trunk of a baobab tree or in the opening of a lotus blossom.
Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, 2012)
Made of emptiness, we feel empty and we fill the emptiness we feel with emptiness.
That’s the sunyata* of eating.
*Sunyata – Buddhist doctrine of emptiness/void
Mani, the founder of Manichaeanism, born in Persia in 216 CE, tried to get off the samsaric wheel of zero-sum living by eating light, literally. According to polymath Colin Spencer in his book The Heretic’s Feast (1996), Mani learned about vegetarianism from members of the Elcesaites, a religious sect that “celebrated the Eucharist with unleavened bread and water and washed themselves and their food according to certain rules of purity” (136). The Elcesaites believed that “all defilement is from the body…you yourselves are clothed in” (137). This notion gave Mani his ideological blueprint for dividing the world into two substances—matter and soul (spirit or consciousness)—and positing that soul substance is trapped in matter substance. This was the basis of his unqualified compassion for all living forms. Mani had visions and believed that he had a “divine twin, an emanation of the Jesus of Light that gave him guidance” (137). By the standards of official Christendom, Mani was a dangerous heretic. But that’s not the point. What’s of interest is his attempt to overcome heterotrophy. By recognizing the soul in all that’s living, by believing that all living life is sentient, Mani, like Jainists, felt compassion for other life-forms.
Already a vegetarian, “he did not wish to harvest the fruit and vegetables himself, but only to accept them as alms… Blood, he claimed, oozed from the places where the plants had been hurt by the sickle: the vegetable world cried out with a human voice at the pain it received. When taken by force to pick dates, the tree spoke to Mani calling him a murderer” (137). Whether Mani was highly empathic or psychotic—or both—is irrelevant. What matters is that he had a point. Modern-day science does support the notion that plants have inner life. And why wouldn’t they? They are alive, after all. All life—at its core—is responsive to stimuli and has a desire for self-preservation.
Mani’s “heretic” diet resulted in his premature demise. He was tortured to death by the Christian establishment. But his eating philosophy also earned him a powerful following that outlived many contemporary “heretical” …
Each meal is the beginning of a metabolic rebirth. The physical you that you currently are is about to die as you replace yourself with a new you that you are about to create with the help of what you are eating.
Each meal is also the beginning of a psychological rebirth – unless you are eating mindlessly, on autopilot. The psychological you that you currently are – your thoughts, feelings, sensations – are about to die (change) with the experience of your next eating moment. If you are eating mindfully, if you are in the moment, the field of awareness that you are is about to renew itself. A single moment of mindful eating is a psychological reincarnation upon itself, a new mini-lifetime, however fleeting.
The wheel of eating is the wheel of psycho-physical rebirth.
As you sit down to your next meal, recognize yourself as your own creator. Feel the freedom and the responsibility that come with this act of eating re-creation.
Adapted from “Reinventing the Meal” (Somov, New Harbinger 2012)
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Emotional eating is misunderstood and often unnecessarily demonized. However, emotional eating — that is, eating to feel good, often termed “compulsive eating” — isn’t the problem. It’s emotional overeating and mindless emotional eating that can be both psychologically and physically unhealthy. Emotional eating works as a coping strategy and stress reliever if approached with mindfulness and moderation.
Emotional Eating Is Inevitable
Whether you eat or overeat, whether you eat mindfully or mindlessly, one thing is clear: people only eat what they like to eat. How a particular food tastes is a fundamentally emotional consideration. Let’s face it: your body doesn’t give a hoot whether you eat something that tastes good or not so good, as long as the food isn’t rotten. Taste is the business of the mind — a matter of pleasure. Bottom line: Everyone eats for pleasure, so emotional eating is inevitable.
Emotional Eating Is Coping
Aside from emotional eating to feel good, some of us also eat to cope — that is, to reduce emotional distress. Eating for pleasure or eating to reduce daily stresses are two sides of the same coin but our all-or-nothing minds divide this indivisible coin in half. On one hand, we are encouraged to slow down and enjoy the food we eat. On the other hand, we are told by popular culture to never eat for emotional reasons. If this sounds like hypocrisy, it is. Any pursuit of well-being is simultaneously a reduction of distress.
Why Emotional Eating Works
There are several good reasons why emotional eating is so appealing as a coping strategy.